It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Square-Enix’s MMO, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Just when I thought my MMO days were numbered, I tried out the game and am now playing it often with my friends. Needless to say, I was quite hyped when the first expansion, Heavensward, was released in June. After playing it throughout the summer and into the new year, I have finally collected my thoughts on the game and its current state.
It should be noted that before you can access Heavensward, you must have cleared the entire storyline from A Realm Reborn. This includes the story content that was added in all of the content patches. The reason for this decision is because your arrival in the city of Ishgard (the expansion’s setting) is due to certain events that occur in the final quests of the original game. This decision may lead to some outcry but to me it makes perfect sense. Unlike many MMOs, FFXIV’s main focus is on the story. To simply be warped into Ishgard without realizing why you are there would be very jarring. Do not fret though! Players coming back will be able to gain experience points while doing these quests, a feature that was not present before its release. So while you may not be able to get in right away, you will have a nice head start by being a few levels in before even starting the expansion.
Without getting into spoilers, the story of Heavensward revolves around A Realm Reborn’s ending and its consequences. Led into Ishgard with your comrades, your character begins their journey in trying to find answers while getting wrapped into a thousand-year war revolving the Ishgardians and their eternal enemies, the dragons. What I really liked about this story is that it captures the essence of an old-school JRPG. Rather than running around on your own and reporting to your allies in the same spot like in ARR, you are traveling with your companions together from area to area in Heavensward. It gave me this nice nostalgic feeling of running around in a world map with my party but this time, rather than being a small figure in a top-down map, I was exploring vast lands in a 3D environment. It may sound cheesy, but I liked this approach compared to the previous entry.
While not quite the merry band of adventurers, the crew you stick with throughout the expansion all have their reasons for joining your cause, making for an interesting narrative.
Throughout the expansion, some answers to ARR’s cliffhangers are revealed while even more questions are raised by the time you see the credits. I’m sure we will find more about the unanswered question in future patches, just like in the previous game. One thing that really annoyed me though was how one storyline from ARR was resolved in Heavensward. Without spoiling anything, it felt like a cheap copout and I’m sure once you reach that part of the game, you will know what I’m talking about. Despite some flaws, Heavensward has plenty of surprises and twists that even surprised me. Oh and the final fight before the credits roll? Simply amazing and later down the road you can play a more difficult version of it (which I have yet to clear…). It’s probably my favorite moment of the game.
New in this game is flying. Rather than giving you access to fly right off the bat, you have to unlock the ability by a combination of completing quests and discovering wind currents that are scattered throughout the area; I think this was a clever way of unlocking it. The developers wanted you to explore the land by feet first as well as experience the stories in that area before you are given access to flight. By the time you are able to fly, you will have experienced the entire area and thus are rewarded with the convenience of flying around at high speeds. Flying itself is very well done and easy to pick up once you get it. It can be a little tricky sometime to figure out the altitude of certain destination markers on the map without an indicator though. Hopefully this gets fixed eventually.
New areas also make their debut in this expansion. The zones in Heavensward are humongous; they are at least four times as large as the old zones in ARR. They really capture the feeling of exploration as every area has their distinctive feel to them. One of my favorite new features is how almost every place has two different music themes, depending on the time of day. Speaking of the music, Masayoshi Soken strikes gold again with a fantastic soundtrack that is just as great, if not better than ARR. I am always listening to the game audio because of this.
Here’s an example of the Day/Night cycle music in one area:
And just a couple of my favorite tunes from the soundtrack. The variety of music in general is rather vast!
The new jobs featured in this expansion are the machinist, dark knight and astrologian, one new job for each party role (DPS, tank, and healer). Each of these have their own unique take on the role and have a different approach in playing their role. For example, besides healing, astrologians have cards that can buff party members and the machinist have a wide array of crowd control skills and a turret that can support the party in a few different ways, similar to a bard’s songs.
Meanwhile, most old jobs from ARR go through a transformation that highly affects the way they play before the expansion. For example, my main job, the bard, is no longer a “run and gun” job but now has a cast time to its attacks when in a certain stance, leaving some to jokingly call us “bow wizards.” In exchange, they are given higher attack power and new skills exclusive to that stance. Dragoons have a timed buff that give them additional attacks and enhances their jumps but they have to manage the limited time by weaving moves that increases the time. The list goes on. Some players accept the changes with open arms, while others complain their job has changed for the worse. Let’s just say things have gotten more complex since ARR for some jobs. It’s definitely more interesting nowadays. One cool thing though is that every job has their own Limit Break visual as opposed to sharing one.
So how is Heavensward after the credits roll? Well, to me, it’s not as great as the ARR content patches have been. Once again, we were given a 24-man raid, known as the Void Ark. However, it’s fairly simple and while the environment is great, it’s basically a glorified dungeon run. Perhaps I just want more out of my raids aside from moving from one pack of monsters to the boss room, with little to nothing to do or explore in between.
The more difficult raid that is intended for the more hardcore group is Alexander. Although the music is wonderful and the steampunk theme is a great change of pace, the content is just lacking. While it is more welcoming to people this time around by having two difficulties, it’s still in the same style of raid where you are thrown in a giant circle area and fight a boss. If you’re lucky, you’ll fight a few monsters before approaching the boss room but it’s more or less filler. It doesn’t help that the story behind it is very forgettable, unlike the wonderful tale that was the Binding Coil of Bahamut raid from ARR. I just feel that it’s a missed opportunity to design something so cool and not really change much to the aesthetic that was presented in the previous game. It’s something to do but it can get stale fast.
That’s not to say Square Enix isn’t trying to experiment with new content. In the latest patch, we were given the Diadem, an instanced zone where exploration and fighting notorious monsters in parties was the focus. Unfortunately as it stands, it is just a place where you mindlessly farm one area and attack two or three different kinds of monsters while hearing the same battle music over and over. This was one feature I was really looking forward to and I was bummed to see how it turned out. Hopefully this gets changed down the road. They also added a very expansive mini-game that is a strategy game involving your minions. I can’t say I really care for it but at least producer Naoki Yoshida is trying different stuff each patch, it just doesn’t attract some as planned at times. I just hope that this is applied more in the dungeons and raids. And don’t even get me started on the new relic weapon grind (seriously, can you at least make it a LITTLE different from the last one, okay I’ll stop).
While it doesn’t sound like it based on the last couple of paragraphs, Heavensward is a great expansion to Final Fantasy XIV Online if you enjoyed the base game. It has more of what was good about the original and added a lot of new features (many that I haven’t even discussed in this article) that enhance the gameplay. The endgame and the current patches so far however have been less than stellar and a little stale but I’m still having fun playing it with my friends. We still have many content patches ahead though so hopefully it will change for the better and continue being the great game that it is.
(Sidenote: Once again, all screenshots were all taken throughout my adventures in Heavensward throughout the past half year and they don’t do the game’s beauty any justice. My how time flies!)